|Introductory Novella: Realm of Thorns|
While Realm of Thorns, and its sequel series, Legends of the Forsaken Empire, are written as a standalone series, readers of the Books of the Infinite series will recognize those stories as a *possible* ancient history of the Syvlande Empire and future stories in Legends of the Forsaken Empire.
Because Books of the Infinite illustrates the building of a fantasy realm’s Sacred Word, while the Legends of the Forsaken Empire series portrays the political and spiritual effects the Sacred Word has upon mortals struggling to survive in a fallen world. Think of the Legends of the Forsaken Empire series as a medieval fantasy family saga inspired by Earth’s actual history.
History fanatics might recognize a few similarities between the kings of Legends of the Forsaken Empire, and some of our own, more notorious, medieval rulers. Much of this series is grounded in actual medieval accounts and traditions.
Realm of Thorns—set in their world’s New Testament era—details the Syvlande Empire’s beliefs and links us to Eliya and Valo’s descendants in a distant medieval future.
I hope you enjoy their family’s story!
Copyright 2018 by R. J. Larson
Researched and written by R. J. Larson
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
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Cover design by: Kacy Barnett-Gramckow
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Books by R. J. Larson:
Books of the Infinite
Realms of the Infinite
Legends of the Forsaken Empire
Realm of Thorns (A novella)
To whom can I speak and give warning? Who will listen to Me? My people refuse to hear; they turn away. The Eternal’s Word offends them; they find no pleasure in it.
From Books of the Prophets, The Rone’en
Willing herself to appear serene, Eliyana of Khelqua watched her teachers.
Seated opposite her at the gold-inlaid amethyst table, the revered Torena’s dark eyes glinted, fiercely at odds with her sedate wreath of silver-plaited hair, which gleamed beneath sheer formal veils. Her opponent, the smooth-shaven Kiyros—rotund as a subtly wrinkled tawny russet plum—waved her off dismissively.
Shaking his silver-curled head, he lectured Eliya. “Ignore her, Lady Eliyana. The revered Torena forgets that insecure victors rewrote history! Queen Cyphar and her consort, Gueron, instituted many social reforms that advanced our culture, yet they were unfairly maligned—their reputations besmirched by the ancient prophets and fanatics of Khelqua.”
“Unfairly maligned?” Torena planted her long brown hands on the study table’s shimmering surface. “Cyphar murdered all but one of her own grandsons and, according to the Sacred Word and Khelqua’s official scribes, Gueron was a paid assassin. How was she fair?”
Kiyros’ voice oozed contempt. “You’re certain she wasn’t? The ‘Sacred Word’, your treasured Rone’en, was written by those scribes and so-called prophets who scorned our Chaplet faith and brutally executed Cyphar and Gueron.”
Torena exhaled, a woman controlling extraordinary impatience. “Were you there? No! We must rely on contemporary accounts. Ancient scribes and prophets recorded events independent of each other, which testifies to their veracity. Furthermore, your Chaplet faith is nothing but Cyphar’s self-serving pagan creed mixed with just enough of the Eternal’s scriptures to make it inviting to Khelqua and the continent. The Chaplet goal is to obliterate our past! Yet, to deny and suppress the Rone’en is to scorn the faith that created and bound our Syvlande Empire.”
“Faith?” Kiyros snorted. “Tyranny built and bound the empire. It deserves to crumble!”
Eliya gazed up at the palace study’s carved stone roof-beams, then at a crack tracing it’s way along the plastered walls from a recent quake. Once per week, her teachers contended with each other, their verbal battles so vociferous that one or both teachers should expire at every lesson from sheer exhaustion. Ironically, the following week, her teachers might argue the opposite opinions with equal ferocity, until she was convinced that Torena followed the Chaplet faith, and Kiyros harbored devotion to the Eternal Liege—and that they’d thrash each other while defending their views. How could such behavior be proper while training a princess? She ought to scold them both. “Sir, and revered lady, I’m leaving.”
Obviously not hearing her, Torena snapped at Kiyros, “If the empire falls, it will be because headstrong spoiled citizens rebel against common sense by calling laws tyranny, since too many citizens are reluctant to perform honest work! If you believe your life will be better after the empire falls, then you’re deluding yourself.”
“We will be free!”
Enough. Eliya tapped her fingertips on the glistening amethyst tabletop. If she reported half of her teachers’ hot-headed utterances to her lord-father, they’d be imprisoned or worse. Particularly if Kiyros truly wanted the Empire to fall. Eliya abandoned her seat and shooed off Kiyros as if he were an errant bird. “Go then! Be free. And don’t return. You’re dismissed. Permanently.”
Torena stood, her scholar’s face calm. Mask-like. “Forgive me, Lady Eliya. I’ve forgotten—this was your last lesson.”
Kiyros reddened visibly, then turned flustered. “Her last lesson? We’re dismissed? And no one told me? Lady Eliya—”
“It’s been kept secret.” Not that she’d welcomed all the secrets. Eliya replaced her writing quills and inkstand in her silver carrying case, then closed its lid. “Don’t worry, good sir, you’ll be paid for the entire year’s lessons as agreed.”
“But …” Kiyros hesitated. “What about the year’s remaining lessons?”
Was he worried about lost prestige? Of no longer serving in her father’s royal courts? Eliya smiled at him. “You’re free, remember? Make arrangements with new students at your leisure. I’m being married off. Tomorrow morning, I leave for the northern realms as Trisguard’s future queen.”
“Well.” Kiyros regathered some of his composure, then reached for his notes and reference scrolls. “That was sudden. The empire’s northern realms, eh? Not surprising. I’ve heard rumors that Ceyphraland’s rejected you, and that Belvasae’s prince is in love with a commoner.”
Though renowned for his discretion and keeping royal secrets, Kiyros delighted in sharing unflattering gossip he’d dredged from other citizens. Did he hope to enrage her? Eliya shrugged. “We’ve heard nothing from Belvasae or Ceyphraland. Whether the rumors you’re spreading are true or not, my lord-father believes this northern alliance with Trisguard is Khelqua’s best option. For, despite all its talk of leading the Syvlande Empire and possessing the imperial Sun Crown, Belvasae rarely manages its own lands competently. Unlike Khelqua and Trisguard. Farewell, Kiyros. I’ve enjoyed our debates.”
His face scrunched like a drying, darkening plum, Kiyros swept up his writings and scribe-box and stalked out.
Torena watched him go, then spoke, her voice low and tranquil. “He’s been a sometimes-worthy opponent.”
Eliya studied her childhood mentor. “You seem content, revered lady, being newly-retired and no longer employed by the royal court.”
“Oh, but I am employed, lady.” Torena bowed her head, her sheer veils shimmering and drifting gently. Composed as a revered teacher should be, she gathered her scrolls and writing gear. “This morning, the king appointed me to escort the empire’s only marriageable princess to Trisguard, then serve as your official attendant and scribe until you’ve acclimated to your new realm.”
“Ah, there’s another secret revealed.” Eliya rested her parchments and wax note-tablet atop her writing box. “I should have known I wouldn’t escape you, dear Torena. Not that I long to.”
At least in Torena’s company she’d have a perpetual reminder of home. As they walked through the glistening amethyst-and-gold halls of Khelqua’s royal Ariym Palace, Torena asked, “What have you gleaned from enduring all our weekly debates with Kiyros?”
“That scholars can be stubborn and tiresome.” Eliya shifted her writing gear, then teased her elder with a grin and a nudge. “And, that one teacher in particular can be trusted with an empire’s secrets.”
“Not the whole empire’s worth,” Torena protested. “I’d eventually be hunted and shot down by some Chaplet nobleman who’s desperate to keep his own secrets to avoid paying for spiritual pardons. Don’t worry, lady. I’ll serve you only two years, and then retire. You’ll be free to appoint your future companions from Trisguard’s courtiers.”
An unexpected pang nearly checked Eliya’s footsteps. Only two years? She’d miss the revered lady. Just as she’d deeply miss her family and Khelqua. “Torena, I’ll hate to leave Khelqua.”
“Lady, Khelqua will hate to see you leave.”
Before misty sentiment fogged Eliya’s gaze completely, Torena added dryly, “The jewelers and fabric merchants will lose half their business the instant you step out of our lands.”
If Torena had been one of her siblings, Eliya would have shoved her. Instead she laughed, then sobered. Tomorrow, she’d leave Ariym forever. Within days, she’d cross Khelqua’s borders and never return. “I wish my departure could be delayed. What if my future husband’s fanatically devoted to his Chaplet faith? What if he asks me to cease reading the Liege’s words?”
“We pray and trust that the Eternal Liege will shelter you, lady.” Hugging her treasured copy of the Rone’en closer, Torena added, “As for myself, I can’t give up the Sacred Word, no matter what the cost. If reading it means that I’m sent onward from mortal life to the Eternal, I’ll have no regrets.”
Torena’s composed, austere face, and her near-maternal grip on the Sacred Word, assured Eliya that she’d indeed give her life for her faith. Eliya shivered. Could she be as steadfast? “Don’t plan your death. I need your courage. I know nothing of my future home. If Trisguard’s Chaplet laws tighten, and my true beliefs are discovered and deemed traitorous … even my royal blood won’t save me.”
They walked together, silent except for their sandaled feet clicking briskly against the corridor’s amethyst and marble pavings. As they turned into the palace’s main gold-and-amethyst corridor, Torena spoke, low and urgent, as if conveying a reluctant message. “Whatever your misgivings, lady, it’s imperative that we leave as planned. I feel the Eternal urging us away from Ariym—from Khelqua itself. By the Liege’s living Spirit, we must depart. Do you trust Him, Eliya?”
“More than I’d ever trust the Chaplet faith’s revered Cyphar.” Never mind that the legendary Cyphar’s regal, golden-eyed image watched Eliya from every corner of Ariym’s palace. Even now, the ancient queen’s cutting gaze studied her unblinkingly from a quake-fractured mural framed within a wall’s golden arcaded stones. Was Cyphar truly Eliya’s ancestor? Perhaps. Eliya’s eyes were the same clear gold. Her lord-father’s eyes. The eyes of a lion sighting prey. Eternal spare her from ever becoming as merciless. Eliya hurried onward.
Keeping pace to her right, Torena exhaled. “If you mistrust the Eternal, then I’ve failed you and your lady-mother.”
Suppressing weakening memories of her gentle, ever-devout mother, Eliya murmured, “No. Torena, you’ve not failed. And it’s not that I don’t trust the Eternal and His son, our Liege. Rather, it’s my own family that’s caused doubts. Their loyalties are so fleeting, that I question myself. Am I as flighty? Is my faith a fancy? I’d like to believe that it’s not—that I’m capable of building a substantial and useful life, reflecting my faith. But then I look at … others.” Her lascivious lord-father, frivolous stepmother, and unreliable siblings, for example.
Could she trust any of them with her innermost secrets?
Torena shook her revered head. “How distressing. Such doubts from my most excellent student—the only one who never shirked lessons week after week.”
“Your lessons were an escape from palatial boredom, revered lady, and they’ve given me a thirst for truth. Thank you. But now, the lessons have ended, and I’ve even more questions and concerns than I had when I first bowed to you as an apprentice-scribe.”
“Your concerns are understandable, but I trust your abilities, Lady Eliya—and I’ve listened to many a noble-born who believes he or she could conquer the empire with less than half of your abilities. You will become invaluable to Trisguard.”
Invaluable? To Trisguard’s allied northern realms? Doubtful indeed, considering that she’d not received one hint of assurance from her future lord-king husband, Laros Rakiar of Trisguard, that she’d be truly welcomed.
Never mind the trinket-filled gold box his messenger had placed at her feet two weeks past, accompanied by Laros Rakiar’s own note, filled with tributes to her beauty and accomplishments. Every exquisitely written word obviously paraphrased details he’d heard from some flattery-filled envoy.
Apparently, the lord-king of the northern realms didn’t contemplate her, his future wife. She was a pretty formality. A trade agreement. A costly ornament to be stored away in dim apartments within his palace, unaccompanied by anyone from Khelqua except Torena and, perhaps, her personal maidservant, Vaiya. Her own friends, ladies, and even her relatives would be regarded as interfering interlopers within other royal courts. Father had emphasized this grievous detail more than once during Eliya’s childhood. It didn’t matter who married her—she must become a citizen of her wedded realm and not drag packs of ‘foreigners’ with her from Khelqua.
Yet she dreaded the isolation.
What if no one in Trisguard’s court befriended her, or could be trusted? What if Laros Rakiar secretly scorned her? What if he never loved her as Father had loved her lamented late-mother? Worse, what if Trisguard’s ruler was so strictly bound to the Chaplet faith that he ultimately persecuted her for trusting in the Eternal Liege?
To the Eternal, the Lord of all Sacred, she formed a silent prayer. “Defend me, I beg You! Protect me from my future enemies as I enter Trisguard.”
Particularly if her most noble enemy should ever be her own husband.
His silence unnerved her.
Her dark curls tamed and held back in a golden mesh caul, her rare purple robes in perfect order, Eliya knelt on the cold, smooth amethyst tiles before her father’s gilded throne and her step-mother’s honored bench, situated within arm’s reach of the throne. “My lord-father … I beg you … let me stay in Khelqua one more week.”
Her father, Rodiades, tetrarch of the empire’s western realm of Khelqua, hid a yawn, smoothing his puffy face and silvering beard with one gnarled, ring-weighed hand. Sounding like a man longing for a nap, he grumbled, “Eliya, you’ve had the last nineteen years to visit your family and Khelqua. What use is one more week? Don’t lose courage now—too much depends on your ability to captivate the northern realms. Trisguard’s cavalcade is already traveling to meet you at their border, beyond the mountains.”
What were her father’s plans? Why did he need this alliance? She studied his bored visage and faded-gold eyes. If only she could read his mind. Or call upon insights from the Eternal, as prophets had done in the past. But—according to the Chaplet priests—the prophets were dead. And she was a mere princess whose royal father couldn’t be bothered to speak her full name in a formal audience. Unless he thought Eliya was her full name.
Her stepmother, Amara—Rodiades’ second wife, elevated from a league of royal darlings—leaned forward. “How I wish your royal mother had lived to see this day! She’d be so proud of your beauty—your dignified presence. Dear girl, believe me when I vow we’ll miss you. But you must leave tomorrow as planned.”
“Don’t disgrace us with tears,” her father urged. “Now … your brothers and sister are in the courtyard, anticipating your farewell banquet. Don’t keep them waiting.”
He wouldn’t attend? Eliya willed gentleness into her words. “My lord and father, because it is my last night, would you visit us later? After you’ve rested?”
“I cannot promise. I’ve letters to write to Belvasae and Ceyphraland tonight, announcing your marriage and formally inquiring as to why our correspondence is so sadly diminished. Not that I blame Belvasae and Ceyphraland for neglecting Khelqua. I’ve neglected them for Trisguard’s concerns, and yours.”
She bowed, then departed from the echoing amethyst throne room.
Willing herself to ignore the sting of tears.
In the arcade-framed courtyard, Eliya smiled as her siblings cheered her arrival. The eldest, twenty-year-old Lord-prince Iscah, strode toward her, sun-bronzed and more vital than their father had been in years. Iscah held out his hands, drew Eliya near, and kissed her cheek. “You look sad. Don’t brood, El. If you hate your husband, then I will gather an army and chase him from the northern realms.”
His clear yellow-gold eyes sparkling with a seventeen-year-old’s restless mischief, Eliya’s second brother, Valo, joked, “I’m with Iscah. I say that Rakiar’s gotten off too easily. He should wage an all-out battle for you. In fact, you’re leaving months too early!” He waved at the courtyard’s blooming fruit trees. “Spring is the time for war. Summer’s end is the time for treaty brides.”
Eliya swiped Valo’s arm. “I forbid you and Iscah to attack my future husband. What if you defeat him? He’d hate me.”
“Then we’d oust him and every other petty king from the empire and give Belvasae’s sun-crown to Iscah.”
A Khelqua prince wearing the emperor’s sun crown. Such a marvelous feat hadn’t been accomplished in three generations. Eliya smiled but shook her head. “You’d risk Khelqua.”
“We’d guide the empire to its greatest glories.” Iscah’s lowered tone warned Eliya that he’d seriously considered the matter. “The Syvlande Empire is fading. Isn’t this what the prophets warned? We must reunite the realms and strengthen our grip on the continent!”
Twelve-year-old Jesca, the youngest, and Eliya’s only sister, laughed and edged into the middle of their conversation, her golden-brown eyes not as bright as Valo’s or Eliya’s, but afire with her love of schemes. “You should. We should! The empire would thank us, and future citizens would praise our names.”
“If they don’t kill us first.” Valo goaded Jesca out of the circle, then followed her, calling over his shoulder, “Enough small talk! We’ve a feast to attend, and Eliya doesn’t want to discuss warfare all night.”
Just beyond the courtyard’s entry to the palace, bells chimed, warning of approaching company—a dignitary they weren’t permitted to ignore.
Iscah scowled at the entry, annoyance darkening his smooth-skinned bronze face. “Some highborn foreigner’s intruding upon our feast.”
Indeed. Eliya muted a sigh. Naturally, their last evening together would be consumed by formalities. Probably some finicky elder-diplomat from Belvasae’s southern realms, who would complain about his difficult journey, bad food, and the fact that correspondence between the realms had dwindled to an insultingly meager level. Well, her lord-father could voice the same complaint against Belvasae and Ceyphraland. If either country dared to—
Her indignation froze as a tall, black-clad young man strode into the garden, his full mouth subtly pursed as if wary of the unexpected feast. Surveying Khelqua’s royal siblings, his dark eyes gleamed. As he glanced at Eliya, he lifted one commanding eyebrow, countless unspoken thoughts hinting in his gaze. She held her breath, staring, listening as the servant called out, “Lord-king Danek of the Walhaisii.”
Eliya blinked. Had the old Walhaisii lord-king died of his lingering illness earlier this year? Apparently so. Yet, no one had cared enough to mention it to her within her secluded court. But why should they? What was a minor upstart highland king compared to Khelqua’s ancient lineage? Yet Lord-king Danek was certainly imposing. Even Iscah seemed impressed, his grim displeasure replaced by courtesy. Though Iscah’s civility could just as easily be inspired by the fact that this Walhaisii king could undoubtedly throw him aside with a careless swat.
As Eliya stepped back, clearing a path toward the table, Jesca gripped her arm and whispered, “I’m so glad he’s not your husband! I want to marry him. I’ll ask Father.”
“Our lord-father would say you’re too young.” And giddy. Jesca’s thoughts flitted from one idea to the next, her lively infatuations usually fading by sunset.
However, the Walhaisii lord-king provided plenty of reason for infatuation, from the sheen of his dark hair, to his understated, perfectly fitted gold-edged black robes, polished boots, and the wide leather belt emphasizing his warrior-worthy physique.
Iscah led Lord-king Danek to the feast. As they relaxed around the table, sharing soft bread, richly spiced simmered meats, dried fruit and cooled wine, the Walhaisii king said, “I’d no intention of barging into your feast uninvited, but the servants brought me here after sending word to your lord-father. He answered that he’d greet us later this evening. I owe him the Walhaisii’s pledge of loyalty.”
And a tribute, undoubtedly. Eliya swallowed her bread. Only the promise of some other king’s rich gift would bring Khelqua’s king out of hiding this evening. Even she had been unworthy of Father’s notice. How unjust and—
No. She must not be angry with her lord-father when she departed in the morning. Rodiades had also obliquely insulted Lord-king Danek by not greeting him immediately. Above all, she must remind herself that her lord-father was even-handed in dispensing signs of arrogant indifference.
Impetuous as ever, Jesca smiled at the highlands’ king. “My sister, Eliyana, has been ordered to leave tomorrow for the northern realms—Trisguard. Tetrarch Laros Rakiar’s pledged to marry her. You should have spoken for her instead. Then we’d have her just beyond our borders.”
As a stinging blush warmed her face, Eliya shook her head at Jesca. But Iscah grinned, and Valo joked to their guest, “What kept you from asking? Have stories of her bad temper reached you in the highlands?”
Lord-king Danek laughed, so good-natured with her teasing siblings that Eliya forgave Valo. Danek met Eliya’s gaze, admiring her even as he jokingly quoted, “‘The king of brambles and thorns said to the king of oaks, ‘Give me your daughter that my son might marry her!’ But the next morning the brambles were hacked to pieces and the thorns burned to ashes.’” Lowering his voice self-mockingly, Danek said, “I must preserve my realm, minor as it is.”
Iscah lifted a gilded goblet of wine. “Are you saying the empire’s remaining leaders would turn upon you? Don’t you trust them?”
“The Syvlande’s kings and lords haven’t given me reason to mistrust them yet.” Danek nodded at Iscah. “What’s your opinion of the empire’s future, Lord Iscah?”
Iscah’s golden eyes shone over his goblet’s gilded rim, and he paused before drinking. “The empire needs a strong ruler, not a league of quarrelsome kings.”
“Or the empire needs to dissolve,” Danek countered mildly. “Cooperation between the allied realms is breaking down—and if one tetrarch lord-king attempts to rule the others, we’ll have open warfare from Khelqua’s shores to the far beaches of eastern Ceyphraland.”
Was Iscah going to choke on his ill-timed gulp of wine? Eliya watched her brother swallow hard, then set down his cup.
And, when Danek glanced away, Iscah’s scowl toward their guest held promises of daggers.
Masking his disdain, Danek swiped a fold of bread into his portion of tender spiced meat, then ate it. Agree to one all-powerful Syvlande emperor? Never. Marry a princess of Khelqua? Not in a fit of madness, much less cold sanity.
Clearly, the young Lord-prince Iscah fancied himself mature and capable of managing an empire. The Syvlande’s remaining tetrarchs would wipe him out in a single battle, then hold a banquet over his grave—just before they turned upon each other.
As for marriage … Danek pitied the sad, golden-eyed princess. Beauty notwithstanding, Lady Eliya was a mere game-piece for the allied northern realms. Their leader, Laros Rakiar, tetrarch of the north, undoubtedly envisioned himself as the next emperor. Only the Eternal could help the princess if she failed to bring the western realm’s armies to his side.
And with this Iscah as her brother, she’d ultimately fail, for Iscah would obviously help no one’s cause but his own.
Yet …. Danek mastered a frown. Was he being too harsh with these sheltered, inexperienced royal younglings? He was six years older. At their age, he’d also been overconfident. Convinced he could rule. Now, after governing the Walhaisii for only three months, his own mistrust, doubt, and cynicism darkened his judgments of others.
Nevertheless, Khelqua deserved scorn. The royal younglings’ lord-father had betrayed the Eternal Liege twenty years past by bowing to adherents of the Chaplet faith, who’d clamored for the guiltless Liege’s death. True, the Eternal Liege had returned to life among mortals—just long enough to prove He’d conquered death, but Khelqua’s Tetrarch Rodiades was guilty of collusion and causing a wrongful death of the highest order.
How had Rodiades of the western realm failed to comprehend the Liege’s significance—His Eternal Spirit within humble mortal form? All the Liege’s miracles and the fulfilled prophecies had meant nothing to Rodiades. To preserve his own mortal wealth and power, Rodiades condemned an innocent man to die for teaching the truth of the ancient Word—the Rone’en. As a result, the Sacred Word was scorned and suppressed by factions devoted to the legendary figures of Cyphar and her consort, Gueron.
Danek’s family, sheltered in the highlands, had refused to enter Khelqua for years after the Liege’s death, fearing persecution for their beliefs. Even at age five, Danek perceived his parents’ turmoil. Refugees from Khelqua unfailingly arrived with fresh stories of imprisonment, torture and death, inflicted upon the Rone’en’s believers by adherents of Cyphar’s worldly Chaplet faith.
The charming pre-adolescent Princess Jesca beckoned Danek from his reverie. “Lord-king Danek, how long will you visit us?”
“Only for a short time, lady.” Tonight only, if he dared to be rude. This palace, in fact all of Khelqua, set his flesh a-crawling with an agitation he couldn’t explain. “I’m needed in the highlands.”
“Your kingdom of thorns.” Young Jesca’s lighthearted laughter offset any offense.
As did the Princess Eliya’s defensive rebuke. “Jesca! How can you be rude to our gracious guest?”
Still smiling, Jesca leaned toward Danek. “I apologize, my lord.”
“No need, lady. I appreciate your concern.” He included Eliya in his glance. She looked away. Toward the sound of distant calls and bells echoing from the palace corridors beyond the arcaded walls.
Prince Valo stood, his pale eyes brightening in his tawny face. “Our lord-father’s visiting us after all.”
Four guards entered the courtyard, unnerving Danek with their mask-like coldness as much as the swords and javelins they bore. A flicker of a story opened within his memories—accounts of an ancient queen-mother slaughtering her grandchildren. Danek stood, one hand relaxed alongside his gold-and-gem-decked courtly sword.
His hand twitched to draw the weapon as Rodiades himself entered the courtyard.
But not even the Eternal Liege would condone this proud tetrarch’s murder. Danek subdued his loathing and bowed his head toward Rodiades. “Sire.”
“Welcome, Walhaisii.” Rodiades’ golden eyes shone like old gilt in the afternoon sunlight. “How long will you stay?”
Or how soon could Khelqua be rid of him? Danek smiled. “I’ve come to pledge loyalty to you and pay tribute, though I can’t delay—I’m needed in the highlands, and I’m in mourning for my lord-father. Apart from my tribute, I won’t bring much joy to your courts.”
“Understandable.” Rodiades eased himself into Prince Valo’s empty chair. “My condolences for your father’s death.”
“Thank you, sire. As for the length of my stay … if you wish, as a favor to Khelqua and Trisguard both, I’ll pay tribute and pledge loyalty tonight, then depart in the morning to lead your daughter’s cavalcade safely through the highlands.”
He almost regretted the offer the instant he voiced it. He’d be weeks guiding the sad princess from her home toward a realm that might not appreciate her, and this marriage was an imperial matter he’d no sane reason to take on. Rodiades grinned, genuine warmth turning his tired gaze from worn gilding to shimmering gold. “Thank you, my lord. I’ll remember your kindness and repay you in the future.”
Danek bowed his head toward Rodiades. Good deeds too often provoked unfortunate rewards.
Why had he offered?
Nevertheless, he’d keep his word—particularly if it meant leaving this quake-cracked old palace and Khelqua’s scheming king.
In General Order of Appearance:
Trisguard TRICE-guard or TRISS-guard
Laros Rakiar LAY-rose RAY-kee-are
Valo VALL-oh or VALE-oh